District 7230 Group Study Exchange

Report for Week May 12 – May 18

 

By GSE Team Leader Peter Grunthal

 

 

May 12

 

Our host and Coordinator, Bertie le Roux, took us on a tour of Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital. (The legislature, the country’s parliament, is located in Cape Town.)

 

We started at the Voortrekker Monument, a huge, majestic monument to the Afrikaners, descendants of the Dutch settlers, who decided to leave the Cape after the British occupied it in the early 1800’s. Just as the pioneers of America went west, moving the frontier, so too did the Afrikaners courageously move the frontiers North. They used wagons drawn by oxen, somebody always leading on the oxen, from whence came the name “Voortrekkers.” Literally, “pulling from the front.” The history is one of courage and determination, as they forged a new country out of the Wilderness. The museum inside has many scenes and artifacts of the Great Trek.

 

From there we went to some of the hills and forts that surround Pretoria, and guarded the city during the Boer War. Excellent views, including the University of South Africa Building, a building large beyond belief, that has 130,000 students on distance learning programs.

 

We had lunch with our host Memos Kavallineas, at a coffee shop, which was much more than a coffee shop, and enjoyed his hospitality again. He joined us on several occasions during the week, partly as official photographer, and he represented the most warm and charming of South African hospitality. We all fell in love with him!

 

We drove through the attractive city center, through Church Square, with its Dutch Gabled buildings, and other fine architecture. From there to Johannesburg, where we drove along the main roads through the massive Soweto Township, famous and infamous for so many reasons.

 

On the way back we stopped at South African mint’s “Coin World,” with its museum of coinage, Kruger-rands in abundance, and the opportunity to buy some gold jewelry. (I haven’t seen any swinging from the necks of team members!)

 

That evening we enjoyed the hospitality of our host families, Katherine and Peter with Bertie and Aleta le Roux, Hadas and Lila with Mike and Marie Vlok, and Kirk and Ellen with Wim and Kareem Louw. We all enjoyed the company and hospitality of these hosts for almost a week, and it is my belief that lasting friendships were made.

 

May 13

 

We visited three schools, all of which are supported or will be supported by Rotary. Keith McCusker, veteran Rotarian and past District Governor, was our guide, together with Doug and Em Pretorius. First the Kutumala-Molefi School, where we were amazed at the heavy iron blinds attached to the windows to keep thieves out of the computer room our district helped to sponsor. Despite heavy security, thieves will make extraordinary attempts to steal anything that can be sold, and security has to be very secure. We were treated to some beautiful singing by the children, including a song of tribute to Keith; for all that he has done for the school.

 

The next stop was the Donkerhoek high school, where the principal, Lourenz van der Westhuizen is trying to improve the education and self esteem of black students. Highly informational, and another musical treat, including a “gum boot dance” traditionally danced by miners at the mine hostels.

 

The last school we saw was the Kungwini pre-school, where a dynamic and excellent director, Santi ……, showed us over the school, Our team members painted a wall that had been especially prepared for the occasion, and together with some of the children put handprints on the walls together with “Rotary in Action.”

 

We had lunch with our host Memos Kavallineas, at a coffee shop, which was, much more than a coffee shop, and enjoyed his hospitality again. He joined us on several occasions during the week, partly as official photographer, and represented the most warm and charming of South African hospitality. We all fell in love with him!

 

In the evening we met with the Pretoria West Club. I was grateful to Bertie and Albert for the loan of projectors.

 

May 14

 

An excellent presentation to start the day, from Dr. Johan van Zyl, on the health care status of South Africa. He dealt with the health status of the country and the several initiatives in place to improve it. It is as complex, but perhaps more difficult than the challenges we face in the US. Very insightful. Dr. van Zyl is the CEO of GPNet, a syndication of 2700 general practitioners.

 

The next stop was with General Rinus van Rensburg, the Chief Medical Officer of the South African Armed Forces. He is a warm, brilliant individual, who presented us with his view of the major health issues facing the armed forces and the whole country. His engaging manner, and articulate presentation made this an unforgettable experience.

 

After that the team split up, Hadas going to the Pretoria Zoo and National Botanical Gardens, Ellen going to Kalafong Hospice and Little Company of Mary Social Workers, Kirk, Lila and Katherine going to a meeting of business people, and Peter going to meet Prof. Gideon Niemans in the Department of Economics ands Business at the University of Pretoria. We all came away well satisfied with our exposure to these individuals and institutions.

 

Then the team, with the exception of Hadas who was at the botanical gardens, met with traders at De Witt Morgan, an investment firm, where we saw the financial markets at work.

 

In the evening we met with the Pretoria Waterkloof Club for dinner, another pleasant experience. It was this group that met after our presentation to conclude arrangements for the District Annual Conference, for which they were responsible.

 

May 15

 

We went to the Union Buildings, the stately and beautiful buildings overlooking Pretoria, from which the President, Vice President and Foreign Office work. Thomas Cronje, who works in the Foreign Service, hosted us. We were honored to be taken into areas not open to the general public, including Room 159, where foreign delegations are invited to gather with the President.

 

After a unique lunch under the trees at Kringe in die Bos, we went to the South African Reserve Bank. We were met by Mr. Callie Hugo, who is responsible for the open market operations of the Bank (Seventy billion Rand per day of the sale and purchase of government fixed income securities). An excellent presentation on the goals of the Bank and how it operates to achieve those goals.

 

That ended our stay in Pretoria with another hour or so with our hosts.

 

In the evening we joined the District Conference with a “meet and greet” at the Rietvlei dam around a huge bonfire, with a circular thatched structure to give it great character. We met many of our former hosts, who greeted us warmly, and several other people who wanted to talk us. The openness and warmth of the South Africans is a great gift, and we are basking in it.

 

May 16

 

District Conference. Opening Ceremonies. Lunch with Keynote speaker Frank Collins, President’s representative, from the US. GSE Team presentations in the afternoon, where we met the 9250 team again. All went well. In the evening a cabaret singer and dancing, and we all had a lot of fun.

 

May 17, 2003

 

A day at “The Cradle of Mankind” at Plovers Lake, Kromdraai, in the Krugersdorp area. George Kalell took us to a cave site where numerous fossils and other materials from former eras are being dug. We were accompanied by all the youth exchange students, who are currently in this district, 9 in all from various parts of the world.

 

Our guides were Greg Melville Smith, an actor and story teller of the highest caliber, who entertained us with a hair-raising story from the past, evoking the ancient man that lived here. Then a paleologist, Christine Steininger, a doctorate student from the US, gave us many insights into the development of humankind, and the evidence found here and in other parts of Africa. The night ended with the gala ball, and night of food, wine, dancing and entertainment.

 

A great day!

 

And here ends this report.

 

The Team sends their best wishes to all the generous Rotarians in District 7230 who have made all of this possible.